6 hottest legal topics to watch in 2015

News, Rights

2015 promises to be a year filled with emerging legal trends and divisive issues like the expansion of legalized marijuana, the extension of same-sex marriage rights and significant increases in hourly minimum wages for some workers.

6. The Keystone XL pipeline

The breadth of the controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline is surpassed only by its record-setting proposed size, and more and more states are signing on to become part of its history. The pipeline has received harsh criticism from the left, primarily due to its enormous environmental impact. By contrast, Republicans hail the pipeline as a mega job-creator and surefire way to bring oil production back to the U.S. The bill needed to construct the pipeline still making its way through Congress; however, the president has vowed to veto any legislation approving its construction.

5. Legalization of marijuana

2014 was a landmark year for pot enthusiasts, and states like Oregon and Colorado are giggling all the way to the bank. In Colorado alone, tax revenue from the sale and purchase of marijuana and marijuana products brought in tens of millions of dollars. In response, states including Michigan, Arizona, Oklahoma and California are considering similar legislation.

4. Technology 

The Supreme Court has recently tackled some highly technical cases involving Google Maps, trademark rights within the streaming television space, and several other gadget- and social media-centered issues. While the judiciary and Congress have never been considered ahead of the times when it comes to technology policy, 2015 could be a big catch-up year as high court jurists consider a heavyweight patent protection clash between Google and Oracle — all while finally allowing Supreme Court litigants to file electronically using technology that has existed since the 90s.

3. Privacy

Under the heading of privacy are two hot-button issues to watch for in 2015. The first, most well-known issue involves allegations against the federal government and its National Security Agency brought to light by whistleblower Edward Snowden. With his asylum in Russia recently extended another three years, time will tell if Snowden will ultimately return to the United States to face possible felony charges for treason. What’s more, the federal government just allocated $5 billion to the NSA to help stop potential future leaks.

A second, less glamorous privacy issue facing the nation involves the collection of DNA samples from criminal suspects, a practice hotly debated in political circles and the general public. In 2013, the Supreme Court upheld a Maryland law allowing for the warrantless collection of DNA evidence, which can reveal everything from hair and eye color to familial history.

Since then, other states have enacted similar laws, prompting a nationwide discourse over whether the warrantless collection of genetic material is considered an over-reach by state and federal law enforcement authorities.

2. The minimum wage 

Every so often, the federal government initiates an incremental hike in the minimum wage, thereby prompting all states to raise the minimum wage to meet or exceed the federal threshold. Although the minimum wage for federal contractors increased to $10.10 starting in 2015, the federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 since 2009. The president has appealed to Congress to authorize an increase that would bring the national wage in line with the federal employee rate of $10.10. In the meantime, close to half the states, and several cities, have opted to reform their own minimum wage policies to benefit hourly workers.

For example, New York City lawmakers have proposed a minimum wage of $11.50. Other notable wage hikes will occur in major cities across the U.S., including Chicago, which recently approved an ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $10.00; Washington, D.C., which will see a wage hike to $10.50 effective July 1; and San Francisco and Oakland, which have both approved an increase to $12.25 effective later this year. Seattle’s city council approved a $15 minimum wage in 2014.

1. Marriage equality

2015 could be the year wherein all 50 states stand in agreement that marriage equality is not only fair, but also is the law. Close to half of all U.S. states have dismissed the Defense of Marriage Act in favor of an expansion of marriage rights to include same-sex couples. Many of the remaining states without same-sex marriage are facing challenges from LGBT groups questioning the constitutionality of state bans on marriage rights.

Due to a recent strike down of marriage equality by the 6th Circuit, there was a split among federal circuit courts of appeal, which often triggers the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case in the name of legal consistency. The Supreme Court announced last month that it would hear one of the cases in question, meaning we should have a ruling by the end of the June 2015 term. One outcome would be for all state marriage equality bans to be deemed null and void, allowing same-sex couples equal rights to marriage throughout the nation.